Cold nights, Cool season hoophouse crops, CASA conference

Ginkgo Golden Puddle Day
November 10 2017.
Photo Pam Dawling

We had a few 24F nights and the ginkgo trees responded by instantly dropping all their leaves. A beautiful sight.


At the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Sustainable Agriculture Conference I gave a presentation called Sequential Planting of Cool Season Crops in High Tunnels as part of the Friday morning High Tunnel Crop Production Intensive workshop. It’s a new workshop I prepared especially for the CFSA. I usually call the structures hoophouses rather than high tunnels, but either name is fine. It used to be said that farmers called them hoophouses and researchers and academics called them high tunnels. Nowadays there is not such a binary distinction; farmers do research and teach, researchers and academics grow crops. Here is the longer version of the slideshow, including “bonus material” I didn’t include in the 60 minute presentation. Click the diagonal arrow icon to view full screen.

On the Sunday I gave a presentation on Year-Round Hoophouse Production which was a back-to-back presentation of the Hoophouse in Spring and Summer and the Hoophouse in Fall and Winter.  You can view those slideshows by clicking the links to them on the SlideShare.net site.


I’ve added a new event to my calendar for January. You can see all the events I plan to speak at, by clicking the Events tab at the top of the screen on my home page. This one is the Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture Future Harvest Conference January 11-13, 2018 at College Park, MD.

On Saturday January 13 11.30am -12.30pm I’m presenting Cold-Hardy Winter Vegetables – Why farm in winter? Information includes tables of cold-hardiness; details of four ranges of cold-hardy crops; overwintering crops for spring harvests; scheduling; weather prediction and protection; hoophouse growing; and vegetable storage.

I might also be participating with other speakers in a new format Lightning Session, where we each get 10 minutes to tell the audience the top 5 things we want them to know about a certain topic. That isn’t decided yet.

I also hope to be signing books at the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange booth at some point.


Meanwhile here on the farm it’s got colder, as I said at the beginning, and even dreary some days. We are getting our winter carrots harvested, getting ready to plant garlic, adding draft-proofing strips to our hoophouse doors, and admiring and harvesting our hoophouse salad crops.

November hoophouse lettuce bed.
Photo Wren Vile

The hoophouse in fall and winter, last spring planting dates, MEN Asheville

Last week I embedded my slideshow on using a hoophouse in spring and summer. Here’s the slideshow for the hoophouse in fall and winter, including some bonus material I didn’t show at the West Virginia Small farms Conference, due to time constraints:

Of course, this isn’t the season to be planting winter crops (despite the recent weather!), but you can get ideas for next winter and plan them in to your hoophouse layout, and order seeds.

I’ll be giving these two presentations at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s April 11-12 at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center, Fletcher, NC. There you can hear me speak as well as see the slides; you’ll get a handout and you can ask questions.  The Hoophouse in Spring and Summer is on Saturday 10am-11am on the Organic Gardening stage and The Hoophouse in Fall and Winter is on Sunday at 11.30am -12.30pm on the GRIT stage. I’ll also have a book signing.

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One row of grapes (mostly Concord) from the north, in a warmer spring. Credit Kathryn Simmons

One row of grapes (mostly Concord) from the north, in a warmer spring.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Meanwhile, this week in the garden, the snow has almost melted, and we had two garden shifts, on Saturday and Monday afternoons. We pruned grapes and gave compost to our younger blueberries. Mud season is everywhere. The snowmelt is being augmented by rain today. When will we ever be able to till the garden? We planted nothing in February except some shallots. “Normally” by now we would have sowed two beds of carrots, nine of peas, one of turnips and some radishes and scallions, transplanted  4 beds of spinach, one of cabbage, and a third of a bed of lettuce. We’d have beds ready for sowing more carrots and 4 beds of beets and transplanting three beds of kale and one of collards. We’d be preparing the potato patch for planting. Instead we are looking at at least a couple more weeks before we can till and several weeks before we can disk.

Obviously we can’t do it all, even if the weather suddenly became glorious rather than rainy! We have to make some tough decisions about where to take our losses. The potatoes we can just plant later, although it will cause us problems later, when we want to end the potatoes and prepare to plant fall broccoli and cabbage in the same spot. it will likely mean lower yields, as we can’t at this point find a new home for the broccoli and cabbage without infringing on our crop rotation.

Spinach and peas 9The peas still have a chance. We plant peas in the middles of beds of overwintered spinach. So we don’t need to till, just weed, then sow. We reckon we can plant peas until 3/31 in central Virginia. Veggie Harvest agrees.

I’ve been researching last worthwhile planting dates for spring. There are plenty of tables of last planting dates for fall, but fewer for spring. Here’s what we came up with:

3/16 Turnips (Virginia Extension) – so we abandoned plans for those.

3/31 Peas (date from our records, confirmed by Veggie Harvest)

4/1 Kale and collards transplants (our records, confirmed by Veggie Harvest)

4/8 Spinach transplants (our records. Va Ext says 3/16, VH says late April, Barbara Pleasant says average last frost date. Ours is 4/20). So we’re in the middle, maybe risk later than we were going to. But it can turn hot fast here!

4/15 Beets (our records. VH says late April, so maybe we could try a little later)

We also have 3/15 as the last spring date to sow clovers and 3/31 as the last spring date to sow oats for cover crop.

We’re going to reconsider each week, looking at this list for reference. We’ve already also decided to cut out two beds of spring carrots, as we reckon we wouldn’t have time to deal with them all, even if we could get them planted. we have plenty of stored ones from the fall planting, still in good shape.

And, despite the challenges outdoors, we are potting up peppers for the hoophouse.

Pepper seedlings in the greenhouse. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Pepper seedlings in the greenhouse.
Credit Kathryn Simmons